What if I didn’t have to be myself all the time?

St. Francis of Assisi quote

A friend of mine was feeling trapped this week by feelings and thoughts he was having that he didn’t like. The exact situation doesn’t really matter that much because I think most of us can supply our own scenarios in which our thoughts and feelings come to us as unwelcome strangers. When this happens, it can occasionally upset our sense of who we are. I think this is a good thing because our self is not the sum of our thoughts and feelings (Thank God).

It seems that the only way to be “true to ourselves” in our western, individualistic culture is to gratify our desire and never change our minds. I don’t think anyone actually lives this way but somehow this is what we are being told. Marketers mine our desires to exploit us for profit. Politicians never admit they have changed, even over a 40+ year career. We need the money to live every one of our fantasies. We need the wisdom from the age of 22 to make all the right decisions forever. I know it sounds kind of silly when I say it that way; but I think parts of this script have seeped into our consciousness.

Most folks reading this blog are not philosophers or psychologists, and neither am I. We haven’t all thought that much about what it means to be a self or what constitutes a self. The swirl of our head-space and heart-space is disorganized and unclear. Am I my thoughts and feelings? Do I have to be honest about everything that comes into my mind? Can I choose which thoughts are me and which ones aren’t? And if I can, how do I do it? Must I respond to every feeling? Is every desire supposed to be gratified? Can I choose which desires are worth pursuing? If I don’t feel good about something, can I do it anyway?

Jesus gives hope to this troubled mess of which many of us have become aware, and in typical Jesus fashion, that hope comes through death.

“For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.” – Colossians 3:3-4

Jesus doesn’t solve all the swirling. Some Christians might tell you that he makes all of these problems go away: Jesus gives you the answers and you should just think and feel what you’re told. That’s an unfortunately accurate parody of some practical theologies I’ve seen. No, Jesus does not give you operating instructions for your self. Instead he promises a self that is more you than you can ever be without him. That version of your self may even be as surprising as those unwelcome thoughts (but in a good way). The glory of you is tied up in the glory of Jesus. The promise of Christian hope is the future revelation of that glory.

In the meantime, you can measure your thoughts and feelings by the glimmers of that glory that are already breaking into our reality. But they will not be as concrete as the elaborate lies we are fed by other glimmer manufacturers of this life. The future glory requires faith and community to uncover and keep flickering. It is fragile and the dead weight of the self that “died to this life” is heavy enough to crush it. We need help from the Holy Spirit in community to move towards the future we have been promised. It is not automatic. It never has been. Otherwise there would be no need for Paul to remind the believers in Colassae who they were in Christ.

Your self is hidden in Christ with God. You are not done yet. I hope you find freedom in that today—I hope you find a lightness in knowing that. Trust the dis-ease you feel when you are getting trapped by an overwrought demand for authenticity to everything inside you. It is not all you. You are not all you…yet.

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